Online all the time
Welcome to the age of online, everywhere, all the time. We are quickly approaching the moment when Internet access will be possible from any point on the planet.Skip to next paragraph
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In industrialized nations, that access will become invisible to many people. Networked homes will create a living space where tablet-sized PCs will talk to the fridge, the toaster, even the garbage pail, often when the residents are not home.
For some people, this will be an enormous benefit. Fully wired homes for seniors citizens, for instance, will use the Net to help them stay independent far longer than in the past.
These are only a few promises that the Internet holds for us. And even with a downturn in New Economy businesses, countries ignore these developments at their own risk.
But while the promise of being constantly connected to the Net may seem desirable to many, it also raises questions about the social consequences of this hyper-connectedness.
Questions such as: What does it mean to be online all the time? How will that change the way we live? What are the benefits and the drawbacks to being constantly connected?
For Adam Clayton Powell III of the Freedom Forum, an international foundation dedicated to free speech, being online all the time means paying more attention to our choices.
"It's easy to say we would just have more of the same: more speed, more multitasking, more frequent messages," Mr. Powell says. "But maybe we will see something more qualitative than quantitative - watch kids doing homework with four or five instant-chat windows open. Is this just more, or is it something very different from, say, sitting quietly with a book? Whatever that difference is, that's what is coming."
For James Adams, head of iDefense, a firm that specializes in global security, "There is a price to be paid for this [ubiquitous] access," he says. "It's a loss of individuality or anonymity. Anytime you ask for or are given something, you will need to provide data about yourself.
"And that data can be used for you or against you. The pace at which this is all unfolding makes it almost impossible for governments, or NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], to plan how to deal with it."
The haves and the have-nots
Dave Allred, vice president of Broadband Services for Telocity, one of America's leading DSL firms, sees another problem - equality of access.
"We need to be aware of the digital divide, between Internet haves and have-nots," he says. "If you look at our society, it's becoming a service- and information-oriented culture. Access to information has become a fundamental part of what we do. It can make a real difference at the level of the individual's life."
Perhaps even more interesting will be the way the Internet ultimately empowers the individual to take political or social action. "This revolution - and that's what it is - will give voice to the individual in ways not seen before," Mr. Adams says.
"The question is what will this social activism look like? Will it be using the Internet to write an e-mail to your senator or will it be to operate a social-activist chat room that organizes large online protests against government and corporations?" Adams asks. "I don't think that the nature of this power has been understood by those who have it yet. It may look very much like anarchy, and there is a danger in that, too."
Yet how realistic are these predictions of ubiquitous Internet access? How popular is the Internet?
Recent Yankelovich/Monitor surveys of 857 Internet users in 1999 and 1,039 in 2000 showed a decline in Internet use. The thrust of the study was that people are bored with the Net and spend less time using it.